Courts key to voter photo ID

CAPITOL NEWSLETTER
Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Reporters dutifully asked Gov. Scott Walker for his reaction after David Prosser was narrowly re-elected to the State Supreme Court in the spring of 2011.

“I won,” Walker replied.

Prosser’s victory assured a conservative majority on the seven-member high court. Last month that majority changed state policy when it ruled that a change in the law requiring voters to show a photo ID to vote in Wisconsin elections is constitutional.

The majority conceded that imposing financial burdens to get a photo ID would be unconstitutional. The Division of Motor Vehicles issues free photo IDs but has required other documents such as birth certificates to prove identity.

The majority indicated DMV could decide on its own when to provide photo IDs without other documents.

A federal judge has ruled the Wisconsin voter ID law violated the U.S. Constitution. The Walker administration has appealed that ruling, and Atty. Gen. J.P. Van Hollen said he will seek a quick federal appealscourt ruling so the law can be used in the November election.

The federal issues include whether it discriminates against certain groups of people such as students, racial minorities, and the aged. The potential of free photo IDs should help his case, Van Hollen indicated.

Implementing the voter ID law would be a clear boost for Walker’s re-election efforts. Discouraging Democratic-leaning groups could make him an odds-on favorite to win re-election as governor. In turn, that would boost his hopes for national office.

Polls have shown him locked in a tight race against Democrat Mary Burke. Despite being the incumbent and having a large lead in contributions, Walker is in a “dead heat” with Burke according to the Marquette University Law School poll.

One Wisconsin, a liberal advocacy organization, cited the campaign contributions that the four conservative State Supreme Court justices had received from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Their names also have popped up in the John Doe investigation.

Financial reports showed the two organizations spent a combined total of $7.3 million in support of the successful election efforts of the four justices – Prosser, Annette Ziegler, Michael Gableman and Patience Roggensack, according to Scot Ross, One Wisconsin executive director.

Federal records also showed the Wisconsin Club for Growth gave $4.6 million to a group called Citizens for a Strong America, and that group in turn spent $965,000 helping to re-elect Prosser, according to Ross.

“The conservative special interests like Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce bought the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Ross claimed.

He also said Walker had told WisPolitics.com, an online news organization, that he had personally encouraged contributions for the Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012.

In 2007, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court with the Wisconsin case – upheld an Indiana law requiring a photo ID to vote. The next year the court’s decision was sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican officials contend their motive is to prevent voter fraud. Early in his term as governor, Walker suggested that as many as 4 percent of the Wisconsin vote was fraudulent.

But judicial perspective may have changed since 2008. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote for the majority in the 2007 appealscourt decision, subsequently said he made a mistake, indicating he didn’t have enough information at the time.

Posner, a Reagan appointee, said he now agrees with the 2007 dissent of the late Judge Terence Evans who had written:

“Let’s not beat around the bush: the Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too thinly veiled attempt to discourage Election Day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”

That’s why Walker and Wisconsin Republicans are optimist about the future.


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